Saturday, April 21, 2018

Review of 'Love, Simon'

Sweet enjoyable American teen high-school rom-com, with the difference being that it's about a young man who is gay but hasn't come out to either friends or family. Very modern - lots of social media plot elements. But depicting a world in which pretty much everyone is gay-friendly - the school, the parents, the friends...for a few fleeting moments I wondered if this how the real world has now become. But then I found myself at a bus stop in the middle of a group of school kids of about the same age, and in about five seconds I heard that it hadn't.

Watched in the actual cinema (Woodford Odeon) with my Mum, who also loved the film, even though I didn't think she was that gay-friendly.

Review of 'The Bride Price' (Cat Sparks)

A collection of short stories, some previously published, by Australian sci-fi write Cat Sparks - lots of it dystopian post-apocalyptic. Not self-consciously feminist, but that way inclined, and all the better for it.

Nicely written, with several of them set in the same fictional universe; I rather wish there'd been more consistency about that, because even the ones that weren't could have been. Enjoyable all the same, and I'd happily read more by Cat Sparks.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Review of The Book Thief

Didn't like the book, didn't like the film. I don't think I learned anything, or felt anything new, about what it was like for ordinary Germans, or anti-Nazi Germans, during the Hitler period. Lots of sentimental devices...and the way in which the dialogue was in English, but with everyone speaking in Hollywood 'cherman' accents was excruciating. What possible justification is there for this...except to remind the stupidest of viewers that this is Germany?

Watched on live broadcast by Film 4.

Review of 6 Balloons

Another shortish 'issue' film - this time it's a young American woman trying to get her heroin-addicted brother into rehab, and driving him around at night with his two-year old daughter in the car. Like other drug films it's heavy on the misery and squalor of drug use. There isn't much back-story for the brother, but it does depict the way that this is happening in a normal middle-class family; in fact the first ten minutes or so is a bit dull in that it grinds over the mechanics of preparations for a backyard birthday party - in so much detail that I almost gave up watching. In retrospect this was necessary, but...

Watched on Netflix.

Review of The Silent Child

A short (20 minutes), Oscar-winning film about a deaf child in a middle-class family, who is not treated with much compassion and understanding by her not-unkind but busy parents.

It's polemical and very well done - almost made me think 'why can't all films be this short and acute?'

The busy-ness of the motheris acidly depicted. Although it's very short, the film doesn't feel hurried at all, and there are some very clever short portraying of time passing and the developing relationship between the BSL-using language therapist and the child.

There were things I didn't much like. The busy mother is definitely presented as responsible person, if not the actual villain, of the film; she's the one who is inappropriately busy, she's the one who makes (or at any rate communicates) the bad decision to stop the therapist from continuing to teach the child to sign...and there is some suggestion that there is a relationship (divine punishment?) between the child's deafness and her marital infidelity. In some ways it's a very modern film with a very 1950s sub-text. It's noticeable, too, that though this is an 'ordinary' family, wanting to prepare their child for an ordinary local school, the house that they live in is practically a mansion.

But it's a good and powerful film, with a really strong message that is effectively conveyed.

Watched on BBC iPlayer.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Review of 'Hegemony How-To: A road map for radicals' by Jonathan Smucker

A nice, thoughtful book about strategy for socialists - well, he says 'radicals' in the title but he's mainly for self-described socialists. I think too much of it reads like it was written with one eye on an academic audience - he uses a lot of theoretical language, which I don't mind in principle but feel it doesn't add much. I liked the personal bits best. I'm also not sure how relevant it is to a UK audience. I think our left doesn't have a problem with the idea of hegemony, or of power, but has really bad ideas about how to achieve it. This book seems to be mainly an argument with the anarchists of Occupy, trying to persuade them that it's OK to organise to win things, and ultimately to win power; not such an issue here.

Review of 'Night of the Iguana'

A 1960s classic with Richard Burton, Ava Gardner and a rather fab Deborah Kerr. I'd never seen it before, and it's great - based on a short story and then a play by Tennessee Williams, the script is wonderful, the acting great. It seems to cross genres, starting off as social comedy and ending up as a something more thoughtful. Near the end one of the characters completes a poem on which he has been working for the last years of his life, and then dies - and it seems to me to have been a good poem, worth the wait.

In general it feels surprisingly modern, especially in its depiction of Ava Gardner's post-sexual relationship with her husband, and her rather more sexual relationship with two maracas-playing young Mexican men. The representation of these two Mexicans, and the others at a beachside bar, verges on the stereotypical, but it didn't spoil the fim for me.

Watched via Chromestream and Chromecast, after obtaining through informal distribution.

Review of 'Mute'

A rather good, creepy science fiction film set in a near-future Berlin, which is rather well depicted. Lots of violence - it's set in a demi-monde of nightclubs and gangsters, and two of the main characters are former US military torturers who learned their trade in Kabul. But it didn't feel gratuitous to me, or that kind of comic-book knockabout violence that some films have where nobody really seems to get hurt. On the contrary the violence is mainly terrifying.

Curiously this felt and looked quite similar to the Amazon Prime original 'Altered Carbon', set much further into the future, though I think this was better. I liked it more because it was a one-off, and the near-future scenario felt more plausible.

Definitely worth watching, but not for the faint-hearted; I had to watch some of it through my fingers.

It's a Netflix original, and one of the few good films that I've watched on Netflix for a while.

Monday, April 02, 2018

Review of 'Roxanne, Roxanne'

A film about a young Black woman - 16-ish - in Queensbridge NYC who is a rapper and somewhat unexpectedly becomes a hip hop star. It was engaging, but I wasn't sure whether to like it or not; lots of stereotypes about useless, feckless Black men, drugs and the rap scene, trashy jewellery, etc. It was sympathetic to the Black women characters (only two white characters, and minor ones at that - in the whole film - shocking for British people that life in an apparently non-segregated city can be so segregated), but still depicted them in a way that Steve Bannon might have approved - shoplifting, skipping school, drinking to forget their troubles rather than addressing them, ripping each other off...

Watched on Netflix via Chromecast.

Review of 'As High as the Sky'

A film about an OCD woman recently abandoned by her partner, whose wilder older sister and daughter arrive unannounced for an indefinite stay. It's a bit of a comedy, but mainly a serious and quite touching film about loss and relationships. A lot of obvious symbols, but not bad in dealing with some big issues in a relatively light but meaningful way. Not sorry I watched it.

Watched on Amazon Prime on clever TV.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Review of 'Queens of Syria'

Oddly disappointing. I ought to have liked this, because of the subject matter (women refugees in Syria develop personal and social confidence through performing a Greek classical drama about displaced war victims- The Trojan Women) and the treatment...a fly-on-the-wall documentary, which I generally like. But I didn't much. I just wasn't engaged with these women or their stories, and I don't feel good about saying. I found myself checking my watch to see how long it still had to go.

Watched at Lansdown Hall as the last film in the Stroud Film Festival.

Walking on Sand

The sand is scorching, even through my white plastic sandals. I am six years old.

I am sitting on a towel, underneath a red and white beach umbrella. I’m shaded from the direct sun, but it is still very hot. I am resting my narrow back against my Daddy’s shin. I push my hands into the warm sand, scoop some up to let it fall through my fingers. Just below the surface the sand is damp, cooler.

The beach is a low thrum of sound. Dark men in straw hats walk up and down with enormous ice boxes on their back. They are calling in Italian, but I know that their rhythmic cries and songs mean that they are selling ice creams and cold melon.

I have finished my ice cream. My fingers are sticky and I am still very hot. Mummy and Daddy are reading their books, dozing. The sea is fifty yards away, through a few more ranks of towels and loungers and umbrellas. I tell Mummy and Daddy that I want to go in the water; they say I should turn round and wave to them when I reach the sea.

I hop and skip across the burning sand. At the shoreline the sand is cool, soothing between my toes. I look back at the red and white umbrella. I know Mummy and Daddy are underneath it, though I can’t see them in the bright sunlight. I wave, turn and wade into the water. I am wearing a red and white hat with the name of the resort and a picture of a friendly smiling mouse.

The sea is warm, gentle. I submerge my shoulders, enjoying the feeling of buoyancy. I watch some young men playing football with a red and white beach ball. I walk out of the water, back on to the cool wet sand. I know that I just need to walk back in a straight line, the way that I came down to the sea, and there will be Mummy and Daddy.

But I can’t see the red and white umbrella, or Mummy and Daddy. The faces of the people on the beach are blurred. My severe myopia will not be diagnosed until later in the year.

I walk up and down on a short stretch of the waterline. Soon Daddy will come to find me. But he does not come. After what seems like a very long time I start to cry.

Instantly I am surrounded by kind people, moved that a child is crying. They speak to me in Italian, and though I don’t understand them, I know they are kind. One takes my hand, and a big group walks with me along the beach, calling to help me find Mummy and Daddy. And here they are, and I cry some more and then I stop. There is much thanking and patting of shoulders, and the nice people go back to their own beach towels.


And now another little brown boy stands on an Italian shore. The early morning sky is cobalt blue. Now the sand is not hot. The boy’s feet sink its icy chill.

His clothes are wet, and his teeth are chattering. He is wearing an orange life jacket. Heaps of wet rags are scattered all along the beach. There are people lying at the edge of the water. Their limbs bob lazily back and forth in the waves. 

The boy cannot find his Mummy and Daddy. He cannot understand Italian, or English. Perhaps he speaks Arabic, or Tigrinya, or Kurdish. He cries. Soon the kind Italian people will come, and help him find his Mummy and Daddy. Won’t they?

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Review of 'The Daughter'

A really good Australian family drama, with lots of plot and emotion. Possibly the best Australian film I've seen since Lantana, which itself was brilliant. Much more would be a spoiler, but some great acting from favourite Austrialian actors Sam Neil and Geoffrey Rush. Not sure about the decision to make one of the characters apparently American - was that really necessary, or just to secure an international market? But a minor quibble.

I note in passing that once again alcohol is one of the main villains of the film. Funny that after 6000 years we haven't really come to terms with it, or the possibility of altering our consciousness and emotional state through chemistry.

Watched on Netflix, on our smart telly that has it built in. Interestingly (?) Ruth started watching it on her phone but the app on the TV knew where she'd got to.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Review of 'Viaggio Sola' (A Five Star Life)

I really hated this film, which unaccountably won awards for 'best comedy' (and I didn't even realize it was a comedy until I saw that) and 'best actress'.

It's about an Italian woman who is a 'mystery guest' (as in 'mystery shopper') who visits the most expensive hotels and compiles reports on them for some sort of rating/review agency. We constantly hear and see the items on her check list, which are all about how good the hotel makes the guest fee. Early on we see her checking for inadequate cleaning, etc, but it's really about the amount of emotional labour the staff put in. There is no indication at all that the staff are people with their own dreams, fears, problems - this is seen entirely from the perspective of the over-privileged guests. The hotels she visits get a name check in the final credits, and they'd have nothing whatever to complain about - although the film, and the Italian title 'I Travel Alone' is vaguely meant to suggest that there is some emptiness in her life (she doesn't have a relationship or a family life) there is no suggestion that there is anything soulless or depressing about the hotels themselves, or anything fake about the promise of homeliness from an industrial facility.

Incidentally, until I watched this I never thought about the 'Five Star' in 'Five Star Movement'. Is the vacuous populist party actually aiming for some affinity with luxury brands?

As one who has spent some time in such hotels when traveling on business I really, really hate them - whenever I can I've chosen to stay in cheaper places or in Airbnb.

There is a bit about her flawed relationship with her sister - part-resolved when she buys the sister an expensive dress that she'd earlier told the sister didn't suit her. She makes friends with a British feminist anthropologist who dresses like an ageing porn star, and they plan to go out but the anthropologist dies in the night in her hotel room, which makes our heroine question her life's values, but not too much....

Watched on Netflix via Chromecast.